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Good nutrition, safe habits more important than ever

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Mark Mahoney, Guest columnist
Published 4:03 p.m. ET March 30, 2020

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As we transition out of National Nutrition Month in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of good nutrition, particularly when many of us are under orders to shelter-in-place, is very important.

And don’t forget to undertake appropriate amounts of physical activity on a daily basis.


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Healthy eating is especially important for keeping your immune system in top condition.

What follows in this column are some steps you can take to help you eat healthier and stay safer.

Reduce trips to the supermarket

Plan ahead before you shop.  Take time to visualize breakfast, lunch, and dinner for at least 5 days. What will you serve? What do you need? Think about the foods your family likes, your food preparation methods, interests and skills, and the time and energy you will have for preparing meals.

There may not be more time to cook if you work from home, especially if you have responsibility for caring for any kids and meeting the work expectations of your employer. 

Think nutrition. The healthiest meals emphasize whole grains, vegetables, and fruits—serve them in the greatest amounts.  Meat portions should be smaller—this will save money and help keep dietary saturated fat in check. 

Prepare a shopping list —and use it.  This can help diminish impulse buying and provides a list of needed items.

More: Tips for coping with stress and anxiety in time of coronavirus

More: Tallahassee area restaurants offering take-out and delivery: Here’s a running list

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Stocking up

Stock up on nutrition-packed foods that will stay fresh for a week or longer.

Focus on the following list for some recommendations:

  • Breads—corn tortillas, whole grain English muffins, bagels, breads, wraps, frozen whole wheat waffles
  • Grains—instant oatmeal, quick cooking pasta, frozen brown rice, couscous, refrigerated pizza crust
  • Fruits—sturdy fresh fruit (apples, citrus), dried, plain frozen, canned in juice or water
  • Vegetables—sturdy fresh veggies (celery, broccoli, onions, potatoes), plain frozen, low sodium canned, sun-dried
  • Sauces—tomato pasta sauce, salsa
  • Soups & Broths—canned, frozen, shelf-stable cartons
  • 100% Juice—refrigerated, frozen, canned, boxed
  • Milk—fresh, canned, shelf-stable packages
  • Eggs—fresh eggs, egg whites in cartons
  • Cheese—sliced, cubed, shredded, crumbled, grated hard cheese
  • Beans/Legumes—canned beans (black beans, chickpeas), dry beans
  • Nuts and seeds—bagged, canned, nut butters
  • Chicken—frozen or canned
  • Seafood—frozen ready-to-cook fish fillets, frozen shrimp, canned tuna, salmon, and sardines
  • Beef—pre-made frozen lean ground patties or meatballs
  • Flavorings—add zing with dried herbs & spices, vinegars, mustard, hot/steak sauces, lemon/lime juice, light dressings, honey, Greek yogurt

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Other recommendations:

Limit purchases of frozen dinners and tempting foods — most frozen dinners are high in sodium, fat, and calories while foods such as chips, sodas, cookies and ice cream are high in empty calories and increase the costs of your grocery bill.

Focus on keeping costs down — consider low cost alternatives. Try a meatless meal, like chili with beans instead of beef. If fresh fruits and veggies are too costly, the best bets are plain frozen vegetables and fruits. Purchase low sodium canned veggies and fruits canned in juice or water and, if these are in short supply, buy regular canned fruits and veggies but drain and rinse before use.

Don’t forget about friends and neighbors, especially older adults or those with health conditions.  Could you save them a trip to the grocery store?

Consider online shopping.  Many stores are increasingly offering this service which can save you time and help in social distancing. Plan ahead and consider the delivery schedules.

Stay safe

During the Coronavirus pandemic at the supermarket:

Use a disinfecting wipe — wipe your hands and grocery cart handle, then put the wipe in the trash.

Prepared for the unexpected — supermarkets are running low on many items. Be sure to take your own bags. Be ready with a back-up plan if an ingredient you need is unavailable.

Keep the less fortunate in mind — contribute to local pantries and soup kitchens now. Then, when it is all over — donate extra food you stocked up on that is still fresh and safe to eat.

Use contactless payment or credit cards. If you use the payment keypad, tap the buttons and screen with your knuckle — then use hand sanitizer after completing your payment. 

Remember that a positive mindset is the key to getting through this pandemic physically and mentally healthy.  

My column published in the March 24 Tallahassee Democrat titled Tips for coping with stress and anxiety in time of coronavirus focuses on the mental health aspects related to this unprecedented pandemic and provides relevant recommendations and links to resources that can be helpful.

Thanks to my fellow colleagues who are members of the American Society for Nutrition for much of the content provided here. 

Mark A. Mahoney, Ph.D. has been a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist for over 30 years and completed graduate studies in Nutrition & Public Health at Columbia University. He can be reached at marqos69@hotmail.com.

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